Scrap metal thieves targeting utilities

? Record-high market prices for scrap metal have contributed to a rash of burglaries and vandalism at electric companies, leading two local utilities to offer a cash reward for information leading to arrests and convictions.

Kansas City Power & Light Co. and Aquila Inc., both based in Kansas City, have experienced more than 20 incidents in which people have stolen metal and vandalized substations. They are each offering a $5,000 reward for information.

“It’s a real concern from the standpoint of safety of the people that go into the substations,” said Aquila spokesman George Minter.

“It’s part of a national problem. We’re not alone in these issues.”

The incidents have happened in the Kansas City area, St. Joseph and rural parts of western Missouri, the companies said.

Minter said copper is the most sought-after metal, used primarily to protect equipment from power surges caused by lightning strikes.

High demand in India and China has caused the price of pure copper to jump. It reached $2.28 per pound Tuesday, up more than 50 percent in the past year.

Jeff Alport of Wabash Iron and Metal Co. in Kansas City said scrap copper can fetch anywhere from $1.25 to $1.85 per pound. Scrap aluminum, another popular target for thieves, goes for 50 cents to 80 cents per pound.

“Prices are at an all-time high,” Alport said.

Scrap metal thieves aren’t targeting just utilities, either.

In Springfield, Ohio, thieves hit about 70 homes and businesses in a span of five months. In Fargo, N.D., rolls of copper wire, valued around $30,000, were stolen from a school building site.

While Minter couldn’t place a value on the metal stolen from Aquila, he said the company was more concerned about the potential for power outages and personal injuries.

“We’ve already had some temporary outages and instances where we’ve had technicians come in and make repairs,” he said.